The 'women's vote'?

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
June 27, 2011, 8:07 PM GMT+0

Aside from the normal trackers, questions in this week’s poll largely cover representation of women in politics and educational issues.

The Conservatives apparently think they are struggling among women and there is some truth to this. Prior to Christmas the regular YouGov polls were showing the Conservatives still leading among women while they fell behind among men – this year Labour have more usually lead amongst both groups – certainly it looks at first glance as though the Tory advantage amongst women is fading. The graph below shows a two week rolling average of the Tory lead amongst men & women in the weekly YouGov/Sunday Times poll.

We asked about perceptions of which party best represented various groups – most followed the pattern you’d expect – the Conservatives were seen as better representing middle class people and the rich, Labour were seen as better representing the poorest, immigrants, trade unionists, pensioners, etc. For our purposes here though we were really interested in who people perceived as being closer to women – 26% think Labour is closest to women and better understands their views compared to 13% for the Conservatives… but 26% say none of the parties do and 23% don’t know (it is even more pronounced amongst women voters, 32% of whom say none of the parties understand and reflect women’s views).

The reasons for the difference are hard to pin down – other questions in this poll showed that Labour were seen as having more women in senior roles, but it’s hard to say how much difference that actally makes. In terms of actual policy there is normally little difference between men and women. Women normally say they are concerned at pretty much the same issues as men (the idea that women care about 'soft' issues like education and health and men care about 'hard' issues like defence, crime and the economy is basically nonsense), and on most policy questions there is little difference between the genders – I’ve commented about this before, specifically in regard of attitudes toward nuclear power and energy and regulating pornography, which are unusual as being issues where there is a large gender difference.

In this poll, we asked a quick bank of policy questions looking for gender difference. In ending child benefit for families with top rate tax payers and criticising men who abandon their children – both issues where one could reasonably have expected to find contrasting attitudes between men and women there was no significant difference. Two policy areas that did have significant differences between women and men were tightening restrictions on sexualised music videos and adverts broadcast when children might see them and equalising the pension age at 66 by 2020.

Moving on to education, 24% of people think the Government has the right polices, compared to 47% who think they have the wrong policies. There is also a perception that levels of teaching are worse than 10 years ago, and a very widespread perception that behaviour is worse (this, of course, is not a sign that education standards are actually falling – cf. perceptions of crime).

On schools, 42% of people think central Government has too much power over schools, 27% think local councils have too much power, 28% that teaching unions do. In contrast 38% think parents do not have enough power over schools and 41% think headteachers do not have enough power. Despite this, people are almost evenly split over support for academy schools – 36% support them, 36% oppose them. For 'Free schools' the split is 34% support, 40% oppose.